After the release of Need for Speed Carbon in 2006, the popular racing series went through a few changes. There's the entry into professional street racing in Need for Speed ProStreet, the race tracks of Need for Speed Shift, and even a modern interpretation of some of the series' classic titles like Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted (the original Most Wanted is still my favorite game). The latest installation, then, isn't another modernized version of a previous title, nor is it a new endeavor. Instead, Need for Speed is the reset button for the entire series, an attempt to return the franchise back to its glory days.
The entire journey is based in a city called Ventura Bay, a city very similar to Los Angeles in terms of its downtown scenery. However, the developers took some creative freedom and added its own network of highways and mountain roads to make up the rest of the map. The game itself follows a very loose outline of a story. You meet a character named Spike, who introduces you to his close posse. This group of characters provide access to the many races and upgrades needed to become a better driver. Cutscenes feature live-action shots with the game's characters and sometimes include your digital car in a real-world garage.
As you race around the world of Ventura Bay, these characters will interact with you only via phone, keeping you abreast of specific events throughout the city. Take on enough of each character-specific mission, and you'll eventually reach one of the game's top five racing personalities. Other than that, there really isn't anything in terms of story to keep you hooked on any one character.
Race For Days
In terms of the big picture, those five characters represent the game's mantra of the "Five Ways To Play:" Speed (traditional racing), Style (drifts and jumps), Build (visual and performance upgrades), Crew (racing in a pack or drifting as a group), and Outlaw (baiting police and escaping custody).
Although the game emphasizes the different approaches to racing, it's actually difficult to stick to one discipline. More often than not you'll actually incorporate all of these traits during races, as everything from reaching your top speed, destroying road signs, or drifting through turns gives you points. All of this goes into your overall REP level, which provides access to more visual and performance upgrades for your car.
As you continue driving around the city, you'll find more than enough things to do. Aside from the story quest races, there are various ways to earn money and beat the opposition, from sprint races and time trials to drift sessions or multiple laps around a certain part of the area. There are more than enough of these alternative races, meaning you can easily stack up the money needed for future upgrades. However, you can just as easily play only the character-centric races and still have enough in your bank to get better upgrades.
Aside from racing against the computer, you can also compare your times and scores against friends. In fact, every time you boot up the game, you enter a session with other players populating the world. However, an online connection is needed to play the game, even if you don't interact with the other players. The emphasis on connecting with others through the "NFS Network" is completely unnecessary, as the series has always stayed with single-player gameplay. Having other racers invade the world or race around is fine, but it's forced upon you instead of being just an optional feature.
The Car Of Your Dreams
Of course, the other part of any Need for Speed game is customization. It's a feature that's been somewhat lacking in past games, but it's made a return of sorts. Various parts for your car such as turbochargers, the engine control, and good ol' nitrous units can be purchased to convert your car from stock into a full-fledged racing machine. You can further enhance performance by tuning your car with its various parts or make one easy, overall change to give your car drift or grip tendencies.
Visual upgrades are also included. There are the usual suspects of various vinyl and decal patterns to make your car unique, but you can also add custom parts like a new bumper, spoiler, or even a full body kit. Further inspection reveals that you can also tweak other characteristics of the car, such as its ride height, for better performance.
This balance of arcade and simulation customization is strange for the series, but it's not the first time it's been implemented; it's seen some exposure in past titles. What it provides is a suitable option for players. You can make the basic customization options by upgrading parts and determining whether your car is suitable for drift or grip racing, or you can spend a few more minutes making small tweaks to get the most out of your car.
Even with all of the multiple race events and a return to a more in-depth customization experience, this reboot is lacking substance, mainly in its story. The reason why 2005’s Need for Speed Most Wanted was so appealing to me was that it provided some form of motivation to keep playing the game. Back then. It was beating the rival racers of the Blacklist in an effort to get back your coveted BMW M3 GTR after losing it in a fixed race. With this reboot, I don't feel compelled to really do anything to advance the story. I'll just take part in a few races, upgrade, and then go out into the world again.
That isn't to say that Need for Speed isn't fun. It's been a while since I was thoroughly entertained by the series, and I'm glad development team Ghost Games is recognizing the fans' need for a return to nighttime racing and a detailed form of customization. There's clearly more work to be done, but this reboot is a step in the right direction.
Rexly Peñaflorida II is a Contributor at Tom’s Hardware. He writes news on tech and hardware, but mostly focuses on gaming news. As a Chicagoan, he believes that deep dish pizza is real pizza and ketchup should never be on hot dogs. Ever. Also, Portillo’s is amazing.